May 27, 2024

Young Marble Giants – “Colossal Youth” 40th anniversary reissue – a reminder of outsider genius

DOMINO RECORDS        27th November 2020

Young Marble Giants only lasted a few years and made very few recordings but had a huge influence on what came after. Of course, no-one sounds like them, but the ideas around sound, space and tone helped other artists see new possibilities. Fronted by the plaintive voice of Alison Statton, the band rode on closely-miked bass from Philip Moxham and organ or guitar from Stuart Moxham. So simple as a sound, yet attention was drawn to all the components, since the band never thought to fill the sound out or aim for chart placement. That purity was their success. A haunted beauty pervades much of the output. Elsewhere there is a sense of playing with expected formulae, the sounds of the end-of-the-pier Wurlitzer meet a bedroom band. The beat came from a home-made rhythm generator made from plans in Practical Wireless magazine.

The sound is quiet and the antithesis of rock. It doesn’t have a convenient genre box and hence it surprises, confuses and charms, even today. Somehow it is hard to tire of it, even if you’ve known the music for forty years but it’s very strangeness means it has not dated because it hasn’t been adopted into anyone else’s sound.

Here is the complete recorded output, over two CDs and a DVD. I’ve not seen the DVD and the last Young Marble Giants CD I had was only one CD long. I’m not sure I was missing anything. The core output is the utterly wonderful Final Days single (both sides), which has glorious bass textures, oodles of apparent simplicity and conveys alienation and the end of the world feeling that was prevalent in the late seventies, as the Cold War vacillated and the Thatcher years saw much of the population brutalised. This was the era where the ‘Protect And Survive’ leaflet was prepared for the general population to prepare them for nuclear war. The Testcard EP was more rinky-dink, with six quirky instrumentals but the centrepiece is the album, Colossal Youth, which the set rightly starts with.

Almost silent at the outset of the Colossal Youth album, the peculiar rhythm sound, the bass and the almost flat voice remain strange. Alsion’s Statton’s ability to sing as if almost detached from the lyrical content is key to the appeal, the anomie touching a nerve. Nearly every track on the album is a standout but it is as a whole that the art comes and that is where collections like this are a pain. I want it to stop for a pause right after the album and I don’t really need to hear the selection of tracks from the Salad Days album (an assemblage of demos), but that’s the curse of the completist. I guess you can delete them if you’ve bought the download. Dig deep into the strangeness of Eating Noddemix or the sparse but catchy Constantly Changing. Or the punchy, organ driven title track. The Man Amplifier and Choci Loni remain compulsively odd, while Wurlitzer Jukebox is an earworm and Brand New Life is the hit single that never was. This album is worth the price of admission – the rest is a bonus.

All the members of the band went on to make interesting music with other bands, such as Weekend, Everything But The Girl, The Gist and collaborations, including with David Thomas of Pere Ubu. Nothing, however, would be the same as their peculiar chemistry and gaucheness brought to Young Marble Giants. And that’s just fine, because we have this album and two singles / EPs as a record of what outsider youths can make.

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